Within the surrounds of the civic centre on Monday afternoon, Cllr Frankie Keena was elected Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, the first occasion in which the long serving elected representative will fulfil the first citizen role.
Noting the “massive honour” bestowed upon him, the Fianna Fáil Councillor, noted the significance of the “prestigious” position being fulfilled by an elected representative hailing from Athlone as the town embraces its regional growth centre status.
“While we represent various political parties, we all have the one common objective which is to serve our constituents to the best of our ability and to make Westmeath a proud county in which to live and work.
“I look forward to developing the strong working relationship between the elected members and local authority executive during my term as Casthaoirleach. We are a progressive local authority operating with an adopted budget of €86.2 million,” Cllr Keena remarked.
Referencing the continuing presence of Covid-19, the Cathaoirleach expressed his condolences to those who have been impacted by the virus.
“When the time is apt, I will be looking for this local authority to erect an appropriate memorial to the memory of those who have lost their lives due to Covid-19.
“Thankfully, we can now see the success to date of the vaccination programme. While it is heart-warming to witness businesses reopen and the public socialising, it is important to bear in mind that we are still experiencing challenging times in with regard to this virus so I continue to be urge public health guidelines adherence.
“When it is completely safe for large gatherings to meet, I will be requesting this local authority to mark the occasion with music and festivities throughout the county, our people need a lift,” the Cathaoirleach commented.
Cllr Keena afforded his thoughts towards his forthcoming year as first citizen aspiring for numerous actions to be achieved.
“The provision of appropriate sustainable housing for all sectors within our society has always been an issue which personally resonates.
“Urgent action must be taken regarding the provision of affordable housing schemes throughout Westmeath. I have raised this matter on numerous occasions previously and await future progress.
“The Affordable Housing Bill 2021 and Local Development Agency Bill 2021 are expected to be finalised before the summer recess and I wish to see Westmeath County Council engaging proactively in the delivery of affordable houses.
“I have zero tolerance for persistent anti-social behaviour and illegal dumping and we must, as a local authority, enforce our tenants’ handbook more stringently. Additionally, the Joint Policing committees have a role to play with such issues as this type of activity is not solely linked to local authority houses.
“Urban and rural regeneration projects which our internal project team are progressing will transform the county as a whole for the better.
“As a county, Westmeath has much to offer as a tourist destination. The provision of a network of greenways within the county allows great opportunities for locals and visitors to take in Westmeath’s scenic beauty.
“During my forthcoming term as Cathaoirleach, I wish to see tangible progress on the extension of the Old Rail Trail at Athlone to meet with the Royal Canal greenway in Ballymahon and also the development of the Athlone to Clonmacnoise greenway route. By creating these links with adjoining local authorities, we will attract more people into Westmeath and thus support local businesses.
“The recent announcement of a Technological University for Athlone under the name TUS:MMW has increased the need for this local authority to further work closely with the AIT/LIT Consortium, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to make sure that we are ready to embrace the expected flow of inward investment into our county. I look forward to the challenges which await, the focal point being the ultimate progression of our county,” Cllr Keena concluded.